Monday, August 20, 2007

Spain and the romance of piracy

Last night TCM had a tribute to Errol Flynn which included the Sea Hawk and Captain Blood. On the surface, these are similar movies. Each has an outcast sea captain fighting for England against Spain. One huge difference is that the Sea Hawk takes place in Elizabethan England and features a privateer. Captain Blood is an outright pirate although he is pardoned at the end. From the Spainish point of view, though, both were pirates. As the principals made the transition from patriotic privateer to pirate, the public didn't notice the difference.

All of this started with Columbus's voyage. As soon as he returned Spain and Portugal sent petitions to the Pope asking for a monopoly on pagan lands discovered. Since Spain was sailing west and Portugal was sailing to the east around Africa, the Pope drew a line across the world. All non-Christian lands west of this Line of Demarcation were Spanish. The rest were Portuguese (side-note - since South America bulges to the east, Brazil ended up on the Portuguese side and still speaks Portuguese).

None of this mattered until later in the 16th century when some English got the idea of trading with the Spanish colonies. They would sail to Africa, pick up a load of slaves, then sail to the Spanish colonies in America where they undercut the official Spanish prices. Since Spain had granted a trade monopoly, the colonies were officially barred from trading with the English. This lead to a little nicety where the English would fire their cannons a few times, the Spanish governor would surrender, and the peaceful trading would begin. For a few years this worked out nicely for everyone involved (except the African slaves). Then the Spanish plate fleet happened to arrive at a port the English were trading from. The English opened negotiations, saying that they were peaceful traders. The Spanish agreed to let them pass the next day then attacked the English at night. Most of the English were captured and turned over to the Inquisition. One of the few English who escaped was Francis Drake. He vowed to never deal peacefully with the Spanish again.

When Drake returned to the Caribbean, he was no longer trying to trade in peace. Instead he raided towns and captured treasure ships. Since relations between the two countries were already strained and this brought Elizabeth a huge profit, she knighted Drake. The attempted invasion of England by the Spanish Armada and the Duke of Parma's troops left a lasting impression on the English. Spain was the enemy, regarded much like Nazi Germany is today by the US. Anyone who attacked Spain must be an English patriot, regardless of current relations between the countries.

Spain didn't help matters much. They continued to insist that the Line of Demarcation gave them a monopoly on America. English colonists who fell into Spanish hands were treated harshly. The battle cry on both sides was "No peace beyond the line".

When Morgan raided Spanish cities in the 1680s he was going way beyond the terms of his charter but all was forgiven, both because he was successful and because the English still considered Spanish colonies fair game.

With the exception of Treasure Island, pirate movies prior to the 1990s followed this formula. It didn't matter if the hero was a privateer or a pirate, he was justified because he attacked Spain. It's the ambiguity that lets us cheer for pirates. As long as they attack the greater evil, they can be heroic.

Somewhere in the last decade or two, Spain lost its luster as an all-purpose villain. Now pirates fight each other (Cutthroat Island, PoTC I), the supernatural (PoTC I, II & III) or overbearing English authority (Cutthroat Island, PoTC III).

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Paynestown III

See here for lots of pictures from Paynestown.

Plus, here's one of mine.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Testing the Boat - third trial

I tried the new sail at Paynestown. I think it is too big. I had visibility problems (I couldn't see under it). I also had to sit too far back in order to keep it taut. This raised the front of the boat up and made it more susceptible to waves. There were a lot of these because of passing speedboats and jet skis.

The wind was mainly from the south and we were camped on the north shore. I had some problems getting out far enough to do any sailing. I was able to sail east but I didn't manage to go west. I kept being blown sideways into shore. The conclusion is that I can't tack very well with the current rig.

I did learn a few things about sailing including how to do some course correction with the sail instead of the rudder.

Possibly my sail material is to blame. I'm using a cheap drop cloth instead of canvas. It is a loose weave and might be letting too much wind through. I have a poly tarp to try next. Possibly this combined with a smaller sail will be handier.

I also think that I will modify the rudder. The current design is inspired by the commercial version and is similar to the dagger board. It is long enough that it will drag in shallow water and has to be taken out. The other boats I saw over the weekend had "L" shaped rudders. I think that I will go with that. It should be a minor change.

I'm not the only one going through this. I talked with one of the other pirates about his boat. He didn't have much luck sailing either. He uses a lee board and thinks that it might not be placed properly.

It was interesting seeing the other pirate boats. Except for one 1960s sailboat that has been repainted, they were a combination of boats made from plywood and aluminum rowboats painted dark with a sail added. There was one dory that looked properly constructed.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Paynestown II

This is us at the event.

Pirate Bowling. A pirate wasn't having any luck at lawn bowling so he decided to use his cannon. It was loaded with a blank charge and he was trying to use the concussion to move the ball into the pins. The pins are at the right. This try was a gutter ball. It took a half dozen tries to succeed.

Pirates of Paynetown

I'll be posting more about this event later. The quick summary - it was a great event.

This was the second annual Pirates of Paynetown event. The first one came about when some employees of the state park at Monroe Lake Resource Area were trying to think of special events that would attract people to the park. The friend of an employee suggested a reenactment. The trouble is that nothing historic happened in the area. The only thing it has is the state's largest lake. That suggested a pirate event.

It was a hard sell to the state. It would mean having unknown people camped in a non-camping area but they hesitantly agreed. Around two dozen pirates attended and by the end of the event the staff was asking about the next one.

This year went even better. Around 60 pirates showed up with 30 tents, seven boats of varying sizes and lots of weapons and artillery. The state provided ice and firewood and the main course for a pot-luck.

The highlight was an attack on the "village" by river pirates. I was among the pirates. We were a small band with small arms in rowboats. Initially we were repulsed when a larger boat came to the aid of the village but then it switched its colors - it was one of ours. With the support of its guns, we successfully raided the village.

The day also included weapons demonstrations and the hanging of the old captain - it seems the crew wanted better articles.

After dark the organizers opened the "Scurvy Dog Tavern" in a marquee. The crowd overflowed and the party moved out into the open air. There were a half dozen musicians singing and playing late into the night.

It was a hot weekend but cooler in the country than it would have been in a city. There was a cooling breeze most of the weekend.

The site itself was nearly perfect. It was well-shaded (important on a hot August day) and it overlooked the lake on three sides.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Piracy and Anarchy

For deep thinkers, the blog Cato Unbound has some thoughts on anarchy with some unexpected points. Self-government sometimes produces better results than a formal government. Piracy is given as an example.
One of the most striking examples of this comes from 17th and 18th-century pirates.[9] In many ways pirate ships were like floating societies.[10] And, like other societies, pirate ships confronted problems of theft of cheating. Since they were outlaws, pirates did not enjoy state protection. Government did not enforce employment agreements between pirates or other piratical “contracts,” nor did it prevent or punish theft between pirates, etc.
Read the whole thing.

It's all well and good to point out how pirates fashioned an ordered existence out of a lawless life, but... well, they were pirates. I don't remember seeing any first-hand accounts where the people being robbed were willing to excuse the pirates because of how much better their society worked.